Why Do People Select Seats Together When They’re Traveling Together?

When you book a flight you have the option, in most cases, to select your seats. Not everyone does this, which is something I’ll never understand in cases where seat assignments are free. But I also don’t think the choice people make are logical when they do choose seats.

If a row of 3 is open (and there’s no extra charge for seat assignments or the charge is the same) why do people seat themselves next to their travel companion – even if they want to sit together? Why wouldn’t they choose a window and an aisle seat, leaving the middle open?

  • If the plane isn’t full, a middle is the most likely seat to remain empty – especially at the front of the plane, extra legroom which usually costs more, and at the very back of the aircraft. Assigning an empty middle between two people increases the likelihood that passengers get extra room free, an empty middle to share.

  • If the plane is full and someone is seated in that middle, then trade them an aisle or window for their middle, almost anyone would take that deal. (Some might even offer to sell that better seat for a modest amount! Or ‘buy me a drink on board and you can have my aisle seat instead of your middle’.

Of course you can also buy that extra empty seat if you wish on most airlines. Yet almost no one does this, either.

Or just assign two aisle seats across from each other you’re still sitting together, with no passengers in between you, and you’re guaranteed that space.

If you don’t like the seats that are available, that you do assign yourself, you can set a free email alert for a better seat. Virtually no one does this, either. (By the way here’s how to know which seat is best.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Has the writer even thought about it before asking as an unreaseached article? It’s kind of a in dumb premise as I don’t want to sit across the isle from my wife or kids and not even one window and one isle. I don’t want to talk to somebody to trade back to what I can easily select when I am choosing. My experience has been influenced by full flights and noisy aircraft to where I want to be inches away from who I am talking to be so I can hear and am not yelling. Disregarding intimacy and mental comfort reasons, that’s why people traveling together sit together.

  2. We tried booking sheets across the aisle from each other.

    The airline did not realize we were together, and moved one of us to an aisle on a different row so that a family could sit next to each other. Once boarded, the flight attendant wanted to move her again so a different family could sit next to each other – and gave her some in-flight freebies because the new seat was a middle seat – which coincidentally turned out fine, because the middle seat she got was next to me – so it all worked out. But apparently, if you are across aisle from each other, they don’t always verify if you are with another person or not.

    We could have made a fuss after the first move, but it wasn’t a super long flight anyway, so wasn’t worth it. And it did work out in the end.

  3. Kings33 I guess my point was we don’t need to sit next to each other. Just to clarify we don’t talk to each other over someone in the middle seat. However you make a good suggestion about leaving 2 seats together for other people. Going forward I will book us in different rows. My SO in a window seat in 1 row and I will take an aisle in a different row. That way I am leaving 2 empty seats next to each other in both rows. Thanks for the input.

  4. Sure go a head and grab the two aisle seats across from each other if you have zero consideration for other people. It’s a complete Richard move and you know it.

  5. This has got to be the weirdest airplane post I’ve ever seen and makes me wonder how many people out there really think it’s the best idea to book non-adjoining seats for couples?!! While my spouse likes the window and I prefer the aisle since I’m 6’2″ and have a sensitive bladder, we actually LIKE spending time together, including on a plane! We take turns about who sits in the middle. I think it’s inconsiderate to book non-adjacent seats (this includes aisle-aisle unless you literally never talk to each other. My reasons are as follows:
    1. You put people in an awkward position if you expect or ask them to move
    2. The seats aren’t “yours” and it’s not your decision to make swaps – this should always be cleared with crew, ideally via the gate agent in advance of boarding, or with the flight attendant, if necessary after boarding. The seats are ASSIGNED and there are often cases where it impacts the staff doing their jobs safely if someone else is in the seat other than the person previously recorded.
    3. I’ve definitely experienced the couples who are window-aisle and either talk over the middle seat passenger the whole flight as if the person isn’t even there and does not want to participate in their conversation, or worse yet, constantly pass something back and forth (e.g. food). This also applies to aisle-aisle where they talk to each other through the aisle the whole flight (slightly less annoying but still annoying).
    4. I like physical contact with my spouse, as in holding hands, and it means we can more easily talk to each other or show each other things (e.g. on a screen or magazine)
    5. It can make deplaning less efficient if seating is aisle-window in a traveling pair

  6. I understand you think it’s weird. To clarify we have never have asked anyone to switch seats on a plane. We don’t talk over the middle seat as my ears plug up so much I talk to loud. Therefore both of us like to read. And no we don’t pass things back and forth. Regarding deplaning I grab my carry-on and exit.He grabs his and exits. It works for us. It’s not for everyone.

  7. This is the dumbest article I’ve read in a long time. I fly every week, sometimes with friends and sometimes with my husband. Why would we not sit together?! Especially when you’re traveling with someone you know, it’s fun to talk, joke around, make plans… the fact that I’m even explaining this is bizarre to me. The fact that the writer actually thought this was newsworthy is even crazier. Must be a slow week in the newsroom…

  8. I agree with Gary. If I am traveling with one other person, then I routinely select isle seats adjacent if possible. If three of us traveling. I usually book one side of a reclining exit row. I don’t like booking the last row before economy minus even though I never recline my seat.

  9. 1. The plane always fills up. Not sure about small towns or flyover states, but every flight I’ve ever been on (two roundtrip per month, for 3 years) always fills.
    2. Not uncommon that people will not give up their seat. It’s also a trend right now to not give up that spot.
    3. Space is limited so it’s much more comfortable to be next to someone you know and brush up against, lean on, or even lay on vs very confined and hyper aware of others personal space.
    I’m sure the next article will be “Why do people live together? It’s weird when you can have all that extra space”

  10. I guess Gary needed to put out something and reached into his garbage ideas file.

  11. Why would people want to sit directly next to each other if they’re friends, family, or a couple?

    Gee gosh golly, Gary, I WONDER WHY!

    Scratching my head as to why I started reading this blog, given this is the first article I have read on it thus far

  12. “Sure go a head and grab the two aisle seats across from each other if you have zero consideration for other people. It’s a complete Richard move and you know it.”

    Really? Seems to me if a seat is available, I can take it. Any two seats in any combination. If you don’t like it, book before I do.

    “I prefer the aisle since I’m 6’2″ and have a sensitive bladder” – I used to think it was age. Turned out it was a prostate infection, undiagnosed for probably several years until it got so bad, I had to see a urologist. (We’re talking constantly needing to go in a very, very urgent way, and finally occasional bleeding.) Took two rounds of antibiotics, but it cleared it up and things are no longer “sensitive”. Made a world of difference. Ask your doctor. It’s more common than most men think.

  13. Several years ago it was quite common to find your flight only 70% full. However as fuel prices climbed airlines often eliminated flights and today I find it rare to see more than a handful of empty seats on a flight.

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